My Experience Acquiring Global Entry

June 22, 2016            

When I fly, I never go through the body scanners. I am not convinced that they are safe. And more importantly, I want to exercise my right to choose. I choose the pat-down over the body scanner every time. Rather than feeling the pat-down is humiliating, I feel proud that I’m willing to experience the inconvenience of waiting to be patted down rather than just submit to whatever the government wants me to do because it’s more convenient.

To me, it’s like making a choice between freedom and security. I like to think I will always choose freedom. I will not give up freedom for the feeling of security. In case you have not heard the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, here is one version of it: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Pat-downs at the Airport are becoming more Annoying

“Opting out” of the body scanner means I must arrive at the airport even earlier than others. I feel it’s worth it in order to be as free as possible in today’s world of rules, laws and procedures meant to instill fear and indoctrinate submissiveness.

I’ve been getting the TSA Pre-check upgrade most of the time over the last year. I think the reason I’ve been getting it is because I’ve been paying extra for a seat on flights.

On a couple of trips this spring, I did not get pre-check and it caused some unpleasant waits and treatment.

Between the 6 pat-downs within 2 weeks and the long waits for the pat-downs at a couple of airports, my interest in the TSA Pre-check program was kindled.

The Path to Freedom from Pat-Downs

The beauty of TSA Pre-check, for those of you who have not experienced it, is that you don’t go through the body scanner. You go through the old type of metal detectors. You don’t have to undress, unless you have metal in your shoes or belt. You don’t have to unpack, either. You leave your liquids in your carry-on and leave your laptop in your briefcase. I don’t have to get a pat-down because I don’t mind going through the metal detectors. In addition, I get to go through a different security line, which is usually significantly shorter.

I finally decided to apply for Global Entry. It’s got a few more perks than getting the membership in TSA Pre-check. The difference is that Global Entry gets you through customs very quickly when returning to the U.S. from other countries. Both types of credentials get you in the TSA Pre-check line. The cost of qualifying for TSA Pre-check is $80 and the qualification lasts for 5 years. Global Entry costs $100 for 5 years.

There have been recent articles in the Chicago Tribune and other media about the long waits to get through security at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. That and my recent 6-pat-down experience has inspired me to take action. I was conflicted about applying for either of these credentials because it means volunteering information about myself to government authorities. I also had to volunteer a copy of my fingerprints.

The Process

The application process was pretty quick and easy. First, I set up an account with the GOES system. Then I completed an online questionnaire. The information I provided included where I live now, where I have lived during the past 5 years and the countries I’ve visited outside North American over the last 5 years. It took me a little while to figure out which places I needed to include, both as far as residences and countries visited, being the gypsy that I am.

I completed the questionnaire on April 14. It took me about an hour for the reasons I just mentioned. I was notified on April 20 that my application was conditionally approved. The next step was to schedule an interview. They were scheduling about 3 weeks out. On April 23, I logged in and scheduled my interview for May 12. I was required to bring in proof of where I live, my passport and my provisional approval letter.

Proof of where I live was a challenge for me. I’m staying with my brother and don’t have any utilities in my name. My driver’s license is from Nevada. My car registration and bank accounts are in names of entities, not my name. So, I printed up some rent receipts and had my brother sign them.

The Interview

When I was called back for the interview, before I could even sit down, the Customs agent asked for my passport, driver’s license and provisional approval letter. I was caught off-guard when the agent asked for my “driver’s license” because I had brought other items to show my address in Illinois since my drivers’ license is from Nevada.

I told her the address on the license didn’t match and pulled out the rental receipts I had brought. She said she would still need to see the driver’s license, even though the address on it didn’t match. She looked briefly at the rental receipts and seemed to be satisfied. I handed her my driver’s license.

Then she took my fingerprints. It wasn’t like when I had to have a criminal background check run for getting a permanent visa for Panama. This was like the fingerprints they’ve taken when I’ve entered certain countries. You put the four fingers of one hand on the scanner at the same time. I was instructed to do that for each hand individually and then to put both thumbs on the scanner at the same time.

The Benefits

At the end of the interview, she asked if I knew all the benefits of signing up for Global Entry. I said I knew about shorter lines when going through Customs and the security line. She described some other benefits such as going through an expedited processing lane if I was driving between countries in North America. She also told me I would get TSA Pre-check 80%-90% of the time. This was disappointing to me since I thought I would get it 100% of the time.

I was done with the interview in less than 10 minutes. Before I left the agent’s office, she told me I had already been approved and that the ID number that was printed on my provisional letter was now my Global Entry number. When buying tickets for flights, I’ll fill this number into the field labeled “Known Traveler Number (KTN).” I was even able to go online and fill in that number for tickets I had already purchased.

In addition to having the Known Traveler Number, about a week after my interview, I received a card in the mail which I can use as another form of ID.

It feels good to know that I’ll get to go through shorter lines at the airport and not have to submit to pat-downs most of the time. I’m not proud of the fact that I volunteered more information about myself to the government and it’s agencies, but it’s a matter of trade-offs. Plus, I figured one agency or another already has all the information I was asked for, so I really wasn’t giving up anything they didn’t already have.

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